Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence

Self-care. Over the last decade or so, self-care has become almost a buzz word for those in missionary care. But rooted earlier in the medical world in the 1950s, self-care assisted medical professionals in rehabilitating patients. Used to describe activities that preserved some physical independence, originally it involved simple tasks to nurture a sense of self-worth such as exercising and personal grooming. Today the definition of self-care expands to include anything that helps develop one’s health, happiness and resiliency in life.

But the emphasis on self-care may resemble self-indulgence to those who don’t fully understand and embrace it. For sure, self-care involves a focus on self but there’s a balance required by the very nature of self-care itself. Self-indulgence encompasses an excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own desires, appetites or whims. Imbalance exists in self-indulgence. It is simply that; self-indulgence without regard to its impact on self except to fulfill that impulse.

Self-care, on the other hand, involves a stability and intentionality that is not about promoting such lack of self-control. Instead, self-care seeks to live a balanced life that influences all areas of well-being: the spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual and even social self. It’s about living life in good health in all areas which leads to resiliency.

For the missionary life, self-care becomes an essential piece of resiliency, livelihood, and contributes to longevity on the field. The intentional balance for a missionary is the direct result flowing out of a vibrant relationship with the Lord. When every decision is first filtered through Him, life balance can result. Self-care must flow out of a deliberate daily choice to put Him first in all things. Outside of this funnel and focus, self-care can easily cross over into self-indulgence. Pure, balanced self-care is an overflow that results from a life fully focused on Him.

This is true for all Christians, not just missionaries. The stress that every day life brings each one of us affects our bodies, our spirits, our souls. Without care, we can easily fall into synicism, a critical spirit and anger before we even realize that we have left living the vibrant, fresh walk with Him that God intends for each of us. We can become entrapped by apathy, anxiety, fatigue and general lack of care. It doesn’t generally happen over night, or all at once. Instead, slowly by slowly these things creep into our homes, our ministries, our lives. Before we realize it, these new attitudes have become a part of our every day habits.

Keeping our relationship fresh and new each day with the Lord is key to combatting such tendencies. It is through that lens with which we can discover the true balance of self-care. Reflecting with Him and choosing intentional activities to refill, refresh and rejuvenate our souls becomes life-giving to all of us. And I am not talking about necessarily taking a two week cruise to an exotic island every year. Intentional activities for self-care encompass a variety of interests and meet different people and personalities in their specific areas of need.

For some, it might mean a two week cruise to an exotic island. But more often, it is regular (and vital) time off each week starting with a Sabbath rest. And then perhaps it is a day once a month where time is set aside for a hobby. For those with social needs, it might mean a day out with the guys for fellowship fishing on the lake. If you work in a high stress environment, it is likely important that you get away for a weekend once a month to decompress. For some it may mean a day at the spa getting a massage. Perhaps it is a morning routine at the gym or an afternoon nap. For some it may mean doing a puzzle or playing a family game. But the primary focus is a relationship with the Lord and not self-indulgence that satisfies our temporary appetites. Self-care is secondary, flowing out of our walk with Him, care that honors Him as we care well for ourselves in all aspects of how He has made us.

One exercises quality self-care so that he or she can serve out of the abundance that results. One is filled up to once again be poured out on behalf of the Lord. It is no small task. It may mean trial and error until one figures out what rhythms truly rejuvenate and which ones just don’t work towards the goals. But setting up these rhythms of life may mean the difference between thriving and just surviving.

I encourage you to seek the Lord and ask Him to help you see where to either carve out some time or add in some new activities that will free you up to be with Him regularly and refresh your very being. Make these new habits until they are literally rhythms of life for you. Start small and build on what He leads you to, so that it is possible. Experts say it takes 21 days in a row to form a new habit. Some say it takes up to two months. Clearly, it varies depending on the person, behavior and circumstances. So don’t give up easily on self-care building. It may take some time, but it is so worth it. It may make the difference between walking in the freedom and vitality that God intends for us.

After all, the Christian life is about walking with Him day in and day out for the purpose of advancing His Kingdom and bringing Him glory. Instituting self-care routines and rhythms can unleash new energy in not only your relationship with Him but others, thereby resulting in a new and fresh outlook as you face each day with Him. Be diligent to seek it and reap the rewards.

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